Putin’s Predictabilities By Victor Davis Hanson for American Greatness
It is easy to predict what the Russian president will do in any given situation. Biden is making it easier for Putin to act with aggression.
For all his caginess, dissimulation, and opportunism, Vladimir Putin is more or less predictable.
Putin’s aims? The Russian president’s two-decade dilemma has been how to reclaim the prestige and power of the former Soviet Union—but with only 75 percent of his country’s former territory and 140 million fewer people.
When does he strike?
First, Putin moves on neighboring former Soviet republics when the world price of oil is high, and his coffers are full. So he went into Georgia in 2008 and into Eastern Ukraine and Crimea in 2014 when he thought he had the financial wherewithal and public support to do so.
But when the world is awash in oil, prices dip, and the United States reigns as the largest gas and oil producer, he hesitates. So he remained static between 2017 and 2020.
Second, when the United States increases the defense budget and deters its enemies, Putin also pauses. In contrast, when America “resets” or appeases, he is emboldened.
In 2008, the United States was battered by sky-high oil prices and bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then between2009 and 2016, President Obama went on an apology tour, cut defense spending, boasted of a new “Russian reset,” contextualized Iranian and North Korean aggression, and begged Putin to behave until Obama was reelected in 2012—in exchange for dismantling U.S. missile defense programs in Eastern Europe. Obama then invited Russia into the Middle East after a 40-year absence.
As a result, during all those years Putin formally invaded Georgia, Eastern Ukraine, and Crimea. But between 2017 and 2020, Putin was quieter.
In 2018, the Trump Administration killed attacking Russian mercenaries in Syria. It got out of an unfavorable missile deal with Russia in 2019. It sold offensive weapons to Ukraine. It maintained sanctions on Russian oligarchs. And it greatly increased defense spending.
No surprise that Putin then did not threaten his neighbors with military mobilizations on their borders.
Third, when NATO is in disarray, Putin also turns aggressive.
The United States and NATO began bickering over Iraq and Afghanistan between 2006 and 2008. By 2009-2010, the Obama Administration was complaining that NATO members were “free riders” for not meeting their promised 2 percent annual budget investments in military readiness.